Thursday, May 30, 2019

App Store Competition

Mark Gurman (tweet, 9to5Mac):

Apple Inc.’s former head of App Store approvals said he’s worried about competition between the company and developers, and even recalled board member Al Gore asking about a controversial app approval.

Phillip Shoemaker, who ran app reviews from 2009 to 2016, made the comments in the latest episode of Bloomberg’s Decrypted podcast ahead of Apple’s annual developers conference in early June.

It’s worth listening to the episode.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple was always “embarrassed” about the numbers of developers supporting watchOS? It’s 👏 because 👏 nobody 👏 wants 👏 to 👏 build 👏 apps 👏 with 👏 WatchKit! And by far the biggest potential Apple Watch software market is always going to be custom watch faces

James Vincent (Hacker News):

In the interview, Shoemaker says that Apple has long feared that rival apps from companies like Google and Facebook would replace core iOS features like calling and messaging. He notes that this fear is “absolutely the reason” that the company still doesn’t let users set third-party apps as the default service for these primary functions.

“That was a real thing. I mean the fear that somebody would come along, a Facebook, a Google, whomever and wipe off and remove all of our items,” says Shoemaker.


A store that welcomes competition.

We believe competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers.


Here’s a look at a variety of categories we’re competing in, and who we’re competing with, on our App Store.

Benoit Letondor:

I’ve seen a lot of BS from tech companies, but @Apple branding it’s @AppStore “A store that welcomes competition” is by far the biggest bullshit I’ve seen in years!

Nilay Patel:

Apple: Look at how competitive and open the App Store is!

Also Apple: Here is an infographic of apps that are forced to compete with us on an uneven playing field

I think it is extremely important for everyone to look at Apple’s proffered evidence of competition for FaceTime and then let loose a hearty chuckle of despair

Jason Snell:

Among the things on the page that made me raise an eyebrow is the segment about how Apple allows competition to Safari in web browsers. That’s only technically true, since different web rendering engines are barred from iOS.

Apple’s apps also get to use private APIs and daemons, have greater access to public APIs, act as default apps, and have privileged access to the lock screen, Control Center, and Siri. They’re also not subject to App Review limbo, the normal rules for push notifications and subscriptions, or the App Store tax.

Damien Petrilli:

That’s the thing, with a 30% tax, you can build anything. And what is messed up is that it scales.

So if your App is very successful, it doesn’t even protect you because Apple is getting more money from it to build a competitor.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I actually like App Review, & the review process 👀 But I do think there needs to be external, independent oversight, because the App Store is too important to society for any one person to be the sole arbitrator


The five pillars of the guidelines — Safety, Performance, Business, Design, and Legal — require that apps offered on the App Store are safe, provide a good user experience, adhere to our rules on user privacy, secure devices from malware and threats, and use approved business models.

Jeff Johnson:

Five months ago I wrote about a scammer named “Emanuele Floris” who has an absurdly large number of apps in both the iOS and Mac App Store. At the suggestion of someone who works for the App Store, I also reported this scammer to Apple’s App Review via email. And I reported the scammer to Apple Product Feedback. As of this writing of this blog post, this scammer’s apps are all still in the iOS and Mac App Store. No action has been taken by Apple.

Recently I found another enormous scam in the Mac App Store. As a Mac developer, I’m primarily concerned with the Mac side. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that scams are primarily a Mac App Store problem, though. As I said, Emanuele Floris has a large number of apps in the iOS App Store. If you want to read more about scams in the iOS App Store, take a look at Apps Exposed.


I want the App Store to be safe. I want the App Store to be a good experience. I sell my own apps in the App Store, and I hate that shoppers get scammed, I hate that legitimate developers have to compete against scammers. I hate that Apple sometimes even features scammers in the App Store.

Rory Prior:

The idea that the App Store is a ‘safe and trusted’ place is also problematic. We know full well that scam apps get on to the store all the time, the veneer of ‘it’s safe because it’s Apple’ actually puts users at more risk than if they treated everything with suspicion.


84% of apps are free, and developers pay nothing to Apple.

John Gruber (tweet):

Any developer distributing an app through the App Store, free or paid, must pay Apple $99 per year for a developer account. You can build apps using Xcode free of charge, but you need a paid developer account to distribute them through the App Store.

This was never the case with the Mac, until the notarization requirement.

Rui Carmo:

The $99 developer tax is the sole reason I only developed mobile apps for Android even though I use Apple devices first and foremost–not because I can’t afford it, but because I find a lot of it purely insulting (the limitations in sideloads, the hassle of having to rebuild your personal apps periodically, and, of course, the “added value” of the largely inhospitable developer documentation).


Honestly, I don’t think the fee is even a good deterrent against junk apps, since the App Store is already full of them and the app review process (which is a legend unto itself) seems wide off the mark there.

Michael Love:

It’s a sign of the cutthroat / disorganized nature of the Android indie developer community that we haven’t all gotten together by now and started our own open-source App Store with 5% commissions and offered it to OEMs for free.


Update (2019-05-31): Jim Dalrymple (in 2012):

Farouk told The Loop that Apple rejected an update to the app this week claiming that showing the “iTunes ‘now playing’ or track changes is a misuse of Notification Center.”


Here’s the funny thing. The app was already approved and in the Mac App Store for some time with the notification functionality working perfectly. Apple rejected the app when Farouk submitted an update adding a preference to remove the menu bar icon. No changes were made to the notification functionality in the update, according to Farouk.

Soon after that, Apple released an update for iTunes itself to post track changes to Notification Center.

Another example of this type of behavior is Apple rejecting a camera app for using the hardware volume button to control the shutter, a feature which it built into the iOS Camera app just months later.

Sash Zats:

Let’s take iMessage for example. Shipped with OS, has in-app AppStore UI (Messenger was rejected for putting games into groups, cause it resembles AppStore too much), conveniently entangled with SMS: oh you can’t send it as iMessage? Let’s send it SMS!

Chaim Gartenberg (via Nilay Patel):

But Apple’s defense is full of holes. Yes, Apple has its guidelines for the App Store and a review process, but after a decade, it’s clear that the company doesn’t consistently enforce them or often chooses to enforce them when it profits Apple. Even for the apps that are allowed on the store, developers still have to fight an uphill battle against Apple’s own services.


Meanwhile, Apple still allows plenty of MDM apps on the App Store, like the business-focused Jamf Now or any number of MDM solutions available on an academic level for managing iOS devices for students. Why does Apple allow employers to leave their customers data vulnerable or schools to put their students’ data at risk, but not allow parents to make similar decisions with devices they’ve purchased for their kids?

See also: Paul Thurrott.

Update (2019-06-03): Paulo Andrade:

Listening to the Shoemaker interview about app review process I can’t help but notice his main concern was about whether approving an app would make the “stock price go down”…

Kyle Howells:

All these articles about AppStore competition and nobody manages that Apple had an AppStore rule not to compete with(duplicate) built in OS features (which they used against Google Voice years ago).

Which makes that section on their website pretty funny.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

It will be interesting to see if like every single year:

- two months before WWDC, 3rd party developers are unhappy that nothing changes and everything gets worse.
- on the first day of WWDC, 3rd party developers are (supposedly) happy with the changes because almost everything has changed.

Also considering the fact that it's the first year Google I/O went almost unnoticed, maybe this will be the same for WWDC…

With the high percentage of garbage apps and sleazeball subscriptions in the App Store, does anyone believe any of this?

"We take responsibility for ensuring that apps are held to a high standard for privacy, security, and content because nothing is more important than maintaining the trust of our users."

Sure. That's why Facebook is on iOS.

"We carefully review each app and require developers to follow strict guidelines on privacy, design, and business models."

That's a lie.

"Today, developers have lots of choices for distributing their apps — from other app stores to smart TVs to gaming consoles."

Yeah, 'other app stores' that Apple doesn't allow to work on my iPhone.

"Not to mention the open Internet, which Apple supports with Safari, and our customers regularly use with web apps like Instagram and Netflix.""

What the hell does this even mean? Their diatribe is about the iOS App Store, but Netflix only works on Safari Mac. And instagram isn't a web app, it's a web site!

And needless to say, they have crippled iOS Safari so that many things that work on the real open web, don't function if you're trying to access it from an iOS device.

"We now have 20 million developers in our Apple Developer Program"

Translation = "We make $2 billion dollars a year simply by charging developers to access our platforms (and then we take another 30% from them when they sell on our App Store)"

"generating over 1,500,000 U.S. jobs and over 1,570,000 jobs across Europe"

MY ASS. I'd be surprised if there are more than 50,000 people worldwide making a living *solely* from the iOS App Store. (Are there even 50,000 good apps in the App Store?)

And the insinuation that they are somehow being so super generous by hosting free apps is baloney -- those apps provide value to the platform. Apple has it backwards.

They're saying "Look at all of the different kinds of apps that we host for FREE! Isn't that so great!!" but they NEVER say WHY, if they are hosting SO MANY apps for FREE, what's the justification for taking 30% from all of the other developers of Paid apps? Just because the developers of the Free apps make their money elsewhere (e.g. by providing a paid service in the real world), what's the difference between that and a developer whose paid service is the app itself? Or a Free app where the payment is ads within the app? Or a Free app where the payment is stealing your privacy in the app? THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. IT'S COMPLETELY ARBITRARY. Either Apple extracts rent from every developer, or zero. THE END. (and if the issue is "Apple has to pay the payment processing fees when an app is sold", then just subtract the tiny payment processing fee from the developer's net payment, not an arbitrary 30% that has no real basis towards the costs on Apple's end)

"The Apple Developer Program provides businesses with a robust set of tools, compilers, languages, APIs, and SDKs — so everyone has an opportunity to create innovative apps."

They must have forgotten Documentation. I'm sure it was an oversight /s

Some of the "competing apps" are just hilarious.

Camera :: Instagram? Snapchat? That's Social Media, not Photography. Why not Halide or Obscura?

iMessage :: none of these are actually competitors because Apple won't open source the iMessage protocol

Podcasts :: Overcast is the only actual podcast app listed

Safari :: none of these because they are all just glorified GUI wrappers for Webkit (Safari)

In my opinion the App Store is 95% garbage. The great apps like Halide, Overcast, PCalc, Fantastical, Carrot, and Pixelmator are few and far between. Even apps from big companies like Google and Spotify suck. Apple doesn't really enforce any kind of standard for quality or consistency, despite their claims. The fact that so many apps update themselves nearly every single DAY for "Bug fixes and performance improvements" says it all.

"The fact that so many apps update themselves nearly every single DAY for "Bug fixes and performance improvements" says it all."

I would rather have more frequent small updates of Apple software than annual ones to address bugs. Waiting a year to get a bug fixed because someone in upper management at Cupertino decided not to fix small bugs in minor updates of the OS is killing the platforms.

[…] protects users, encourages developers, and promotes competition. Michael Tsai did a good job of rounding up skeptical responses, which point out how App Review misses scams, note that developers have to pay $99 per year, and […]

“Waiting a year to get a bug fixed because someone in upper management at Cupertino decided not to fix small bugs in minor updates of the OS is killing the platforms.”

Of course, that extreme sucks too. It’d be nice if Apple incrementally updated their apps with improvements more than once a year. If it wasn’t obvious, my point was that apps updating themselves every other day (like Uber seems to do) is a sign of poor software quality (and it’s annoying), even though Apple is saying that one of the benefits of a closed App Store is that Apple is the gatekeeper who ensures that apps are high quality. “We review every app and every update” etc etc. It’s a total lie.

Why are iOS apps so buggy anyway? Apps on my Mac update themselves once a month on average (at most!!) , not once every few days. I have 112 apps on my iPhone. On average I have 10-20 app updates almost every single day. The vast majority of which are “bug fixes and performance improvements” and not feature upgrades.

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems really weird for apps to have so many bugs on an OS with such limited capability (i.e compared to Mac) and with so few devices that the apps have to support.

It’s not every app though, the great apps like Overcast, PCalc, Pixelmator, Halide... are generally only updated once a month or longer, except for the occasional immediate emergency bug fix after a really major update. If every app on my phone was updated once a month I’d have 3 or 4 updates per day, not 10-20.

@Ben G frequent iOS app updates are just the result of companies using modern development practices. With web apps, software is updated multiple times a day. On iOS, large companies have lots of teams continually deploying updates to various parts of an app internally, and they usually package all these deploys into an app store release on a regular cadence of every week or every 2 weeks. Unless there's a major new feature, they just write "bug fixes & performances updates" in the release notes. Which is a spammy experience for end users who pay attention to release notes, but really is no indication of bugginess.

There is another factor with some of the default apps locking out content from other sources. For example, it is impossible on iOS to download an audio file from a website and get it into the Music app. It was possible in the past to use a 3rd party app and then open in Music from there, but Apple required developers to remove that feature a couple years ago. It can be done by connecting the iOS device to a computer and uploading through iTunes, but not on iOS alone.

Leave a Comment